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Our History: Late 19th century: time of perilous journeys

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John Straiton, whose uncle was Frederick Storm, became his partner in the White Owl Cigar Factory, which was founded in Bayside. John had emigrated from Scotland in 1850 and eventually came to reside in Bayside with his wife, Marie. The Straitons, unlike most, had the resources to indulge in foreign travel, a time-consuming activity when few had the luxury to pursue a trip abroad which might last a number of months due to the difficulty of arranging for the various modes of transportation needed.In 1869 Mark Twain wrote what was considered the best travel narrative ever published entitled "Innocents Abroad." At the suggestion of a California newspaper Twain in 1867 boarded the steamer The Quaker City. This was to be the first pleasure cruise in the modern sense, the first, at least, to sail from an American port. Its itinerary included such distant and diverse stops as Beirut, Gibraltar, an overland trip to Paris and Italy and then across to the Holy Land to the pyramids. The passengers were a select group and paid significantly much more than the usual round trip passage to Europe.The book was a fascinating account of travels throughout the Mediterranean and the Holy Land and many foreign ports. Twain's account of the Holy Land and the state of the Ottoman Empire aroused the interest of American travelers. The post Civil War period exemplified by the trip taken by Twain on the steamer The Quaker City heralded a significant national movement for tourism. Postwar prosperity and an era of peace initiated a trend for travel never before seen here.Among those interested in travel to those areas of the world were Marie Straiton and her daughter Emma, who in 1880 decided to set off on a journey which would take 10 months and included a trip to the Holy Land. The Straiton ladies had previously traveled extensively but now wished to visit the Holy Land. However, their reports as they traveled showed that though they started out with confidence they were quite unprepared for many of the situations they encountered during the several months of travel they had undertaken.Marie and her daughter wrote many letters home and these reveal the disappointments and dangers they faced on their journey. Their earlier confidence had been based on extensive travel in Europe. They had no difficulty aboard the Atlantic crossing on this new trip though weather made it a very rough trip. However, for example, they were totally unprepared for the inconveniences and actual danger involved in the landing at Jaffa. The experience terrified them, writing "such a place to land! We were totally unprepared for the involvements in the landing at Jaffa ... We were pulled and pushed up steep steps, where a false movement might have precipitated us into the sea!"They were also unprepared when they learned that they needed to be accompanied by servants while traveling in Palestine for it was deemed unsafe at that time for two women to travel alone. They were soon to realize that arranging their own travel needs, such as transportation and lodging, was difficult and expensive as well as dangerous. It was then that they decided to join a tour group organized by Thomas Cook.In 1881 The Journal Press of Flushing published a book by Marie and Emma Straiton entitled "Two Lady Tramps Abroad: A Compilation of Nearly a Year's Travel in India, Asia Minor, Egypt, The Holy Land, Turkey, Greece, Italy, Austria, Switzerland, France, England, Ireland, and Scotland." The volume was made up of the letters they sent home detailing their adventures and which had previously appeared as articles in the Flushing Journal. John Straiton published a book privately in response to requests by family members and friends and that distribution was limited.I found this story an interesting aspect of Bayside life in the late 19th century.Joan Brown Wettingfeld is a historian, and free-lance writer.

Updated 7:05 pm, October 10, 2011
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